Tag Archives: butterfly plants

Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’

Why plant Buddleia when you can grow Vitex?  Mid summer blue-lavender fragrant spires begin in July and carry on through August on bushy plants with attractive palmate foliage. Here in the northeast, our colder winters don’t allow plants to become as large (10-15′) as the data says, since they  do get some  winter die back.  Vitex blooms on new growth, so it can be cut back hard each spring to grow into a perfectly sized 5-6′ flowering shrub.  And yes,  it is a great addition to a pollinator garden as it is a favorite of butterflies and bees.

The fruits of Vitex agnus-castus resemble peppercorns and have medicinal properties. It has been used to treat women’s health issues such fertility and menstrual problems. In the middle ages it was used to reduce the male libido (heaven’s no!) hence its common name, Chaste Tree. Grow Vitex in full sun in well drained soil in zones (5, with protection) 6-9.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’

I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should have ‘Jeana’, a Summer Panicle Phlox, in your garden.

1. Long-blooming tresses of many small lilac sized florets, on 4-5′ stems, adorn this plant from mid July-September.

2. The foliage is highly resistant to mildew.

3. Butterflies favored ‘Jeana’  over all other Phlox paniculata selections  in the trial gardens at the Mt. Cuba Center.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is  hardy in zones 4-8 and enjoys full sun. For a pleasing midsummer vignette, combine with white coneflowers or the yellow daisies of tall Rudbeckia nitida ‘Autumn Sun’, as well as the blue spires of mid-sized Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  for the front of the border airy and pollinator friendly Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta.

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Heptacodium miconoides

Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.

Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.

Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.

 

Planting for Honey Bees

Lindera benzoin, blooming in March,  is an early source of nectar.

We are about to begin our 4th season as beekeepers, and it has been fascinating, heartwarming and at times, devastating. It’s too early to be assured of our hives’ winter survival but there was a whole lot of action around all 3 hives during the recent 2-day warm spell. Off “the girls” went in search of food to replenish their winter stores. This brought up the question: which specific plants would the bees find around our property that might provide pollen and nectar? I knew our Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) were just beginning to open. What other plants could we introduce to ensure an early and sustained supply of bee nourishment in our northern climate?

Hamamelis ‘Arnold’s Promise’

There is much information for attracting pollinators, (a great source is Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden blog and podcast) but not so much specifically for the honey bee, Apis mellifica. I was able to get bits of info here and there, and finally found an online document, Gardening for Honey Bees by Kathleen M. Prough for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which was quite thorough and easy to follow.  It provided a lengthy list of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, notating their bloom period and whether they provided nectar  (for energy and honey production) or pollen (for protein) or both. Note to non-beekeepers: only certain plants provide nectar for bees, and when these begin to flower, beekeepers get ready for what we call the Honey Flow, a busy time for foraging bees to collect nectar to bring back to the hives. 

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Here in the northeast, honeybees can forage from February through November, as warm temperatures permit. It is important for bees to have a steady supply of flowers to forage, and for the beekeeper to take note of when there is a dearth in her/his area. After referring to Kathleen Prough’s list, I checked off which plants we already had on or near our property and noted which bloom periods I needed to supplement with the right plants to fill the voids. It is important to plant groupings of pollen and nectar-producing perennials and shrubs.  Honeybees scout for sources and concentrate their efforts where there are ample stores. “Flower fidelity” is the phrase describing how honeybees focus collection efforts on one type of flower, as they single-mindedly collect pollen and nectar from one type of plant, ensuring good plant pollination.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in late February

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ with Iris ‘Kathryn Hodgkin’

I definitely knew I needed to add more late winter/early spring pollen and nectar sources. In the woodland behind our hives we have room to add Spicebush, Lindera benzoin and in our low wet area,  space for more Willows, Salix spp.  The early flowers of species Snowdrops (Galanthus) are sources of pollen. We already have a nice little stand of Crocus which provides pollen, but why not plant more?  Siberian Squill  (Scilla siberica) is another early bulb loved by bees and it has amazing blue pollen  Last year I noticed some honeybees on the early blooming  Helleborus niger, although I did not see it on the bee plant list. Hopefully, the nearby swamp maples and alders will provide a good supply of pollen in early April.

Pieris japonica

Enkianthus sikokianus

During April-May our gardens have a decent supply of bee loving flowering trees and shrubs: Apples (Malus)  Blueberries, (Vaccinium), Aronia,  Pieris, Enkianthus,  Hollies (Ilex) and Boxwood (Buxus).  Late spring/early summer perennial selections that offer pollen and nectar include  Baptisia, Crambe, Nepeta, Monarda, Phlox divaricata and stolonifera, Periscaria polymorpha and more.

Calamintha nepeta (Calamint)

Caryopteris x clandonensis Blue Empire

High summer into fall plants include Agastache, AlliumAsclepias, Calamintha, Echinacea, the perennial sunflowers Heliopsis and Helianthus, Lavender, Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum), Penstemon, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Teucrium, Verbena, Vernonia and Veronicastrum. Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia), Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens) and Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris) are summer blooming shrubs that I’ve noticed lots of bees visiting. We are fortunate to have a stand of Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) right near our hives, and its nectar makes the most delicate honey. I’m told the honey derived from the nectar of Sourwood (Oxydendron arboretum) is also to die for. In case you are unfamiliar with Sourwood it’s a native tree with drooping panicles of white bell flowers in mid-late summer with outstanding fall foliage color. 

Cerinthe purpurescens aka Honeywort

Honeybee visiting Salvia vanhoutii

Planting annuals favored by honey bees will give quick results and offer food this season, well into autumn.  Early flowering annuals such as Honeywort (Cerintheand Calendula can start your season. Top honeybee choices for summer are Alyssum, Basil, Borage, Cleome, Cosmos, Salvia, Sunflowers, Tithonia and Zinnias to name a few. These annuals, along with fall blooming perennials such as the various Asters, Goldenrod (Solidago), Sedum and Chrysanthemum will provide more end of the season pollen sources.

very late blooming Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ in early November

You don’t have to keep bees to support the honey bee population, but do consider planting more bee-friendly plants in your gardens. Please refrain from using harmful pesticides (neo-nicotinoids, once thought safe, are very bad!), herbicides (no Roundup!) and fungicides in your gardens. Allow wildflowers to establish and flourish on your property. Let those Dandelions, one of the first flowers that honey bees gather pollen and nectar from, bloom away in your lawn. In the fall, native asters and goldenrod are valuable late season food sources.

Above is a little clip of bee activity on the Mountain Mint. I plan to take more notes on which plants honey bees visit. Feel free to share which plants you have noticed honey bees on.

Vernonia x ‘Southern Cross’

Do you have room in your garden for a late summer/early fall blooming perennial that attracts butterflies galore? This Ironweed has dreamy clouds of composite purple flower clusters on sturdy stems 3-4’ tall beginning in August and its handsome narrow foliage looks fresh all season long. Discovered by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennials, ‘Southern Cross’ obviously has the species lettermannii in its heritage. This selection combines beautifully with ornamental grasses such as Sorghastrum, Schizachyrium and Eragrostis.

‘Southern Cross’ appears to like extra moisture the first season but becomes more drought tolerant once it is established. Plants are hardy in zones 4-8 and should be deer resistant.

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Glows in the Shade: Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’

We are always looking for summer blooming perennials for shade, and here’s one you should consider. Many of us notice plants when their blossoms present themselves , and indeed Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ does captivate with its purple-blue orchid like flowers. I say that this form of Toad Lily deserves attention for its large and bold golden edged foliage. Ovate leaves grow to 6″ long and 3” wide and plants enjoy a rich, somewhat moist but well drained soil. Plants spread by stolons and clump up quite quickly, growing to 2’ tall and up to 3’ wide in dappled shade. ‘Autumn Glow’  is reliably winter hardy in zones 5-8.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ still showing off in early October

The flowers, born in sprays from late July into early October, are lovely as cut flowers and do attract butterflies. Pair Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ with ferns, such as Athyrium otophorumor golden leaved Hosta for a nice shady vignette.

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Generous Fall Asters

Symphyotrichum (Aster) ‘Vasterival’

Some might consider the term “generous” a euphemism for invasive…but I have my own take on certain vigorous spreaders and self sowers. I say, sometimes a plant with ground covering capabilities is a good thing…it won’t be long before you have a nice swath of color plus the plant’s vigor keeps weeds at bay. Here are 5 Asters that command attention and are easy peasy.

( A little botany note: The taxonomists have reclassified Aster  into several distinct genera in recent years. For example, the genus Aster encompasses species that are specific to Eastern Asia, while the term Symphyotricum includes Asters native to N. America and parts of Europe.)

One plant that really draws comments in our September garden is  Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’, a hybrid of unknown origins. 3/4″ daisies in a  sweet shade of pink/lavender are born in loose sprays on tall dark tinted stems. You could  pinch plants back in early July to control height, or let them do  their thing, and have stems that can reach 5′. ‘Vasterival’ is a perfect plant for that “garden gone wild” look. Plants spread by stoloniferous roots.

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Mary’s White’

Another Symphyotrichum selection that has proven quite vigorous is ‘Mary’s White’, which was selected by British nurserywoman Beth Chatto and named for her daughter. 1″ white daisies are carried on sturdy 3-4′ stems during September into early October.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Muraskai’

The Asian Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ is the boss in a bed where we once had  plants with meek dispositions. We  let ‘Ezo Murasaki’ fulfill its ground covering mission, and moved its less vigorous neighbors. Yellow centered violet 1″ daisies are born in  clusters on 18″ stems from late September into November.

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Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

Some Asters self sow nicely.  Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’, commonly called Smooth Aster, is one we allow to seed about and establish informally in beds where a little autumn color will be welcomed. Quarter sized flowers have lavender blue petals with yellow centers open up in stages in loose sprays. ‘Bluebird’ grows 3-4′ tall, but bows gracefully around its neighbors.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides with Elscholtzia and Kolwitzia

Another promiscuous seeder is the Calico Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides. Height can vary, but most often  plants are in the 18-24″ range. Don’t you think this Aster picked the best spot to establish itself, here between the Chinese Mint Shrub, Elscholtzia stantonii alba, on the left, and the golden leaved Kolwitzia on the right?

 

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial  insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs.  Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Parthenium integrifolium

Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and  2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities,  and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September,  Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s  green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.

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Stokesia laevis

Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut with its new genus classification,  Oligoneuron,  who knows what to nickname it?  Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems  in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve

We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’  of Smooth Aster for years, with  its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October.  Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.

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Conoclinium coelestinum ‘Cory’

eupcoecory

A new name for the Hardy Ageratum. Formerly Eupatorium coelestinum, the plant taxonomists have bestowed the name Con-oh-clin-i-um on this late summer into fall blooming plant. The species name co-el-est-in-um means heavenly. Clusters of heavenly sky blue flowers atop 18-30″ stems bloom in August and September, attracting butterflies and pollinators. Conoclinium enjoy average, evenly moist soil conditions and spreads by stolons, creating a healthy patch where happy. It makes a lovely cut flower and is hardy in zones 5-8.

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